Home News Russia’s defense pact with North Korea is a new headache for China

Russia’s defense pact with North Korea is a new headache for China


In the battle of global narratives, China seeks to portray itself as a peaceful country opposed to dividing the world into hostile camps. Conversely, China accuses the United States of building alliances and pushing the world into a new Cold War.

However, Russia and North Korea Mutual Defense TreatyThe agreement requires the two countries to immediately provide each other with military assistance in the event of war, which is exactly what China accuses the United States of building a bloc. China’s closest strategic partners and only treaty allies – Russia and North Korea – now increase the risk of a Cold War-style confrontation in Northeast Asia.

The agreement also creates more trouble for Beijing because it appears to deepen the illusion of a trilateral axis between China, Russia and North Korea, something China has long sought to avoid. “Beijing is very careful not to make this trilateral axis a reality,” said Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center in Washington. “It wants to keep its options open.”

Japan, South Korea, and the United States may now decide that the threat posed by Russian and North Korean defense treaties requires them to strengthen their Your own security arrangementsA move announced last year at Camp David to increase troop levels or strengthen defenses around China.

For those reasons, Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, may not welcome the growing bromance between President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, who met in Pyongyang on Wednesday and hailed the defense agreement as marking a new era in relations between the two countries.

Analysts said the agreement also exposed the limits of China’s partnerships with both countries.

Xi declared an “unrestricted” relationship with Putin and pledged “unwavering” support for North Korea — joining forces with two like-minded authoritarian states to push back against what they see as American bullying around the world.

But by aligning himself with the two outcasts, Xi also risks being negatively impacted by the unpredictable behavior of those leaders. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine severely damaged China’s relations with the West, which accused Beijing of not doing enough to contain Russia. And Kim Jong-un’s nuclear threats helped two tense neighbors, Japan and South Korea, form a trilateral defense partnership with the United States.

There are already widespread concerns that Russia might provide technology to North Korea. Support for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program In exchange for ammunition for use in Ukraine.

Xi needs to turn around China’s sluggish economy and cannot afford any more surprises. Despite his increasingly hostile attitude toward the West, he remains committed to preserving China’s place in the current global economic order.

“The new agreement between Putin and Kim Jong-un is not good news for Beijing,” said John Delury, a professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in Seoul. “Xi Jinping has never had a warm relationship with the wayward North Korean dynasty, and now he is increasingly concerned that Putin will encourage Kim Jong-un’s aggressive tendencies.”

Given the war in Ukraine and the risk of conflict on the Korean Peninsula, Delury said, “While China benefits from an orderly environment, Putin and Kim Jong-un are destabilizing forces.”

China has sought to distance itself from the new deal, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman declining to comment on Thursday, saying it was an issue for Russia and North Korea.

In fact, Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said China believes the Russia-North Korea treaty, combined with the U.S.-Japan-South Korea alliance, has “significantly increased the risk of confrontation, competition or conflict” in the region.

Shi Potian, then Chinese President, said that peace on the Korean Peninsula was China’s top priority, and that the accelerating militarization of the Korean Peninsula “endangered China’s major interests.”

China still has considerable leverage over Russia and North Korea. The United States believes the Kremlin cannot sustain its war in Ukraine without China buying large quantities of Russian oil or supplying Russia with consumer goods and dual-use technology, such as chips and machine tools, to power Russia’s war machine. Meanwhile, North Korea relies on China for nearly all of its trade, including food and energy.

When other countries called on China to use its influence to curb North Korea’s nuclear expansion or Russia’s Ukraine war (without success), leverage over Moscow and Pyongyang reinforced Beijing’s importance.

But Putin’s courting of Kim has created a new rival for Beijing’s influence in North Korea, which “has provided a windfall for Kim and a headache for Xi,” said Danny Russell, a diplomatic and security analyst at the Asia Society Policy Institute.

“For Pyongyang, a partnership with Putin, while not without limitations, can generate valuable leverage against Beijing,” Russell said. “Provoking great power confrontations is a classic North Korean playbook, and North Korea’s heavy reliance on China in recent decades has been a burden Kim Jong Un is eager to reduce.”

“The scorecard shows that North Korea has gained the most, while China is likely to be the biggest loser,” he added.

Maintaining the power of Kim Jong-un’s regime is a priority for Beijing, as is preserving a buffer zone between China’s border and U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

China and North Korea officially describe their relationship as “as close as lips and teeth,” but relations between the two neighbors have long been strained, with mutual distrust and shared interests at odds.

Since coming to power in 2011, Kim has rapidly increased missile tests and expanded North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, unnerving China. Xi initially refused to meet with Kim. It was only after President Trump announced plans to meet with the North Korean dictator that Xi changed his tune and eventually held talks with Kim in 2018, both before and after his summit with Trump.

Xi Jinping may now feel the need to meet with Kim Jong-un again. Victor D. ChaProfessor of Government and International Affairs, Georgetown University Chairman of South Korea A senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said that this is because “Xi Jinping cannot allow Putin to show off his influence to neighboring countries.”

The growing closeness between Russia and North Korea may give China more incentive to repair and stabilize its relationship with South Korea.

Chinese diplomats and military officials met with their South Korean counterparts in Seoul on the same day Putin and Kim met in Pyongyang. China hopes to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul to weaken South Korea’s military alliance with the United States.

Beijing told the meeting that the priority on the Korean Peninsula should be to ease tensions and avoid actions that escalate confrontation — language vague enough to be interpreted as criticism of the U.S. or the Russian-North Korean deal, Chinese state media reported Wednesday. Despite its alliance with North Korea, Beijing has sought to portray itself as a neutral player in the dispute, saying it has always “determined its position based on the merits of the matter itself.”

Wang Xiaoling Reports from Hong Kong also contributed.

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